The Network’s Message is Praiseworthy But Could Use More Context


As of 2012, literacy rates in Afghanistan were hovering around 28 percent, so when that nation’s most popular television network, TOLO TV, broadcasts Sesame Street, many children and adults are learning to read and write for the first time. These kinds of facts dominate Eva Orner’s documentary The Network, which chronicles TOLO’s inception and meteoric rise following the oppressive Taliban regime, and while the film occasionally veers into a hagiography of the network’s creators, the fawning isn’t entirely unwarranted. TOLO TV is a true mom-and-pop business created by the Mohseni family, three brothers and one sister who fled Afghanistan and communist rule as children for Australia. When Kabul became safer in the 2000s, these expats moved back home and attempted to hasten the country’s modernization by creating its first independently produced televised programming. That the network employs women in management positions is groundbreaking, and the increasingly progressive content it airs is poised to effect change—Orner shows us a village gathered around a television powered by a car battery. To sell TOLO’s good deeds, Orner relies almost exclusively on interviews, and while not every story calls for bells and whistles, such a ho-hum approach doesn’t do much for TOLO’s inspiring work. Eventually, all that admiration stops The Network from being as insightful as it should be. Rather than investigating the harrowing circumstances surrounding each day’s broadcast, Orner is content to let each inspiring aspect of the network speak for itself.